'It's different': EVMs add new flavour to Narayanganj city polls

Sadim Ali, a resident of Narayanganj, is no stranger to casting ballots. But the 85-year-old experienced something new in the Narayanganj City Corporation elections.

Sadim braved the cold to cast his vote at the polling station in Masdair's Islamia Kamil Madrasa on Sunday morning.

But he was a bit hesitant at first when he heard that votes would be registered by an electronic voting machine (EVM).

"I have cast a lot of ballots in my life but I have never used this system," he said before heading towards the polling centre.

EVMs offer a different experience to many seasoned voters like Sadim. For the first time, the machines are in use at every polling centre across Narayanganj to serve the city’s 525,000 registered voters.

“I did it. I used to put ink on my finger and press on a piece of paper. Today, I pressed a button,” Sadim said with a smile on his face after casting his vote.

This year’s election is being held amid strict COVID guidelines. Voters are required to follow health regulations at polling stations. Many without masks and voter slips have been turned away.

"Masks, voter slips, and voter IDs are being sought. People without masks are being barred from entering the polling centres," Narayanganj Sadar Police Station chief Shah Zaman said.

The law enforcement agencies have placed equal importance on all 192 polling centres in the city, said Mostafizur Rahman, the district's additional superintendent of police (administration).

"There is no such thing as a risky venue. Strict security measures have been undertaken across all polling centres. If anyone causes any disturbance, he or she will be arrested.”

EVM – FASTER, BUT MORE FINICKY

Most voters in the Narayanganj city election have been ‘delighted’ by the way EVMs are speeding up the voting process. However, some older voters had more difficulty with the new system.

In the first Narayanganj City Corporation polls in 2011, EVMs were used on a test basis at a handful of polling centres. But the machines will now be used to cast ballots at all 1,333 booths at 192 polling centres in 27 wards on Sunday.

Salina Hayat Ivy, the mayor running for a third consecutive term on the Awami League ticket, says she is satisfied with the use of the EVMs, but noted that she had also received a report of an EVM malfunctioning at a polling centre in Ward-7’s Kadamtali.

Independent mayoral candidate and BNP leader Taimur Alam Khandaker cast his ballot on Sunday morning and then went to inspect other polling centres in the constituency. He noted that some polling places had a lower turnout and said that ‘a lack of trust in EVMs’ may be responsible.

However, election officials say there haven’t been any formal complaints regarding the machines. They add that many people have questions about how to use them, but the situations are being resolved and voting is proceeding ‘normally’.

“Some voters are taking a lot of time to cast their ballots,” said Mohammad Badshah, the assistant presiding officer at the Shishubag School polling centre.

“We are giving them instructions from outside, but they are still having trouble with it. But there are also others who enter, cast their votes and are done within a minute.”

Pratima Rani came to cast her vote at the centre, but was unable to do so after two attempts because her fingerprints did not match the database. The issue caused a 10-minute delay. Eventually, an operator from the Election Commission arranged for her vote to be registered.

Another woman had trouble finding the symbol of her preferred candidate. An assistant presiding officer eventually entered the booth and assisted her.

Most voters seem quite satisfied with the EVMs.

Liakat Hossain, who cast his vote at the Shishubag School centre, had a smooth experience.

“I’ve voted using an EVM before and I did so again,” he said. “I was very happy that I could vote. The election environment is peaceful.”

Another voter, named Josna Ara Begum, said: “The election atmosphere is fair and regular. I am very happy to vote.

However, there are issues.

“There are special measures in place for people to cast their ballots if the fingerprints don’t match in one percent of cases, but most of the voters in my booth are older,” said assistant presiding officer Riazul Islam, who oversaw one booth. “Many of their fingerprints don’t match. This is causing delays.”

So far, there have been no reports of any major issues or disruptions, said Al-Amin, the assistant returning officer for the centre.

“Some candidates called in regarding the EVMs because they had some questions or some issues with them, but they did not have any major complaints.

"Some candidates for councillor called the control room to discuss EVMs and the presiding officers resolved their issues. I hope there will be no problems. Each polling centre has its own support staff to handle them.”